Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and by their guns, the terror of the negro, acquire a very formidable military character. Whenever they enter any of the small interior kingdoms, they create a sort of imperium in imperio. The King, while he courts, and endeavours to extract the greatest possible advantage from them, anxiously watches their movements, and scarcely considers himself firmly seated on his throne while they are near it. As the buying and selling prices on the opposite sides of the desert are in the ratio of 150 to 500, lo say nothing of what is paid for only in blows, the merchant who carries life and property safe through a series of such adventures, generally acquires very great wealth, and often rivals the pomp of princes. Sometimes he acquires also liberal and enlarged views, and a spirit of humanity foreign to the course of life in which he is involved. He makes a loud profession of Mahometan zeal; yet the habit of varied intercourse with mankind greatly softens his personal bigotry. Even the rage for proselytism, characteristic of a sect which confines salvation so strictly within its own pale, is greatly abated by that article of the Mahommedan law, which prohibits the making slaves of any of the same faith ; so that should the happy moment arrive, when the gates of paradise were opened to all unbelievers, he might ruefully exclaim, “Othello's occupation's gone.'

Of this bad class, Boo-Khaloom, the protector of the mission, was rather a favourable specimen. He had accumulated immense wealth, and was considered the second man in Fezzan, rivalling even the Sultan, both as to influence with the people and favour with the Bashaw. His entrées into the great towns were made almost with regal pomp-in robes of silk and velvet embroidered with gold, one only of which (the burnouse) had cost four hundred dollars. His fine Tunisian horse was also covered with velvet cloth richly embroidered; and his followers, richly dressed and caparisoned, rode in a long train behind him. To his countrymen he was so liberal and generous, that he was considered almost as the common benefactor of Fezzan. In pursuing a trade, so much of which was evil, he showed a great preference for the lawful and honourable departments, and was dragged into the opposite chiefly by the urgency of his followers, and the impossibility of otherwise holding them attached to him. He made a boast also of treating the victims of his predatory excursions with a humanity of which there were few other examples, and of softening to the utmost the evils of their unhappy condition.

Immediately on leaving Mourzouk, the travellers entered on that continuous desert, which they were to spend upwards of three months in crossing. For some time, they were relieved VOL. XLIV. NO. 87.

M

by finding, though at vast distances, little towns situated in oases, or watered valleys, the high palm-trees of which were eagerly looked to by the caravan as landmarks. As they advanced, however, these became constantly more few and far between,' till, after Bilma, there occurred a tract utterly desolate, which it required thirteen days to cross.

This route bisects the two peculiar native tribes who tenant the desert, the Tibboo and the Tuarick. They appear to be races of high antiquity, and have a language peculiar to themselves. The Tuarick have even an alphabet, which they write, not on books or parchment, but on the dark rocks which, with intervening sands, cover the surface of their territory. Both carry on a system of petty trade and petty plunder against each other, the caravans, and the bordering countries. The Tuarick are of rougher front, and when they invade the country of the Tibboo, its inhabitants find safety only in mounting to the top of the perpendicular rocks, beneath which all their villages are built. In domestic life, they are said to be manly, frank, and hospitable. The fair sex are not here excessively black; and Major Denham, who takes always the strictest cognizance of this particular, considered the features of several as very pleasing, even under the African ornaments of coral stuck in the nose, and faces streaming with oil. They are not confined and degraded as in most other Negro countries; and though gay, and with all the African love of dancing, do not seem much to abuse this liberty.

The travellers had not proceeded far, before an appalling spectacle presented itself.Even within the limits of Fezzan, the ground began to be strewed with human skeletons. From sixty to a hundred were passed in a day; and about the wells of El Hammar, they were found lying in countless multitudes. Major Denham was once roused from a reverie by the sound of two of them crackling beneath his horse's feet. He somewhat favours the common idea of caravans being buried under the drifting sand; but none of his facts seem to controvert the opinion of Browne, that these victims have perished merely through want and fatigue, and the sand insensibly collected over them. So long a march over these burning deserts, where food often becomes scanty, and where Boo-Khaloom considered himself generous in allowing one regular draught of water in the day, seems quite sufficient to account for these calamitous issues.

One of the most remarkable features of the desert, consists in the vast quantity of saline particles with which it is every where impregnated. On many of the plains, the earth was as it were glazed or frozen over with salt; the clods were full of cracks, and so hard as to make it nearly impossible to break them. In other places, the salt was beautifully crystallized, like the finest frost-work. Near Bilma, wherever a spring could be found, they had only to dig a little pond to receive it; and the water, though quite fresh, soon became strongly impregnated with the mineral. This salt, and particularly a pure transparent kind found in the neighbouring lakes, forms the basis of a very extensive commerce with Soudan, from which the Bilma Tibboo in vain attempt to exclude their powerful neighbours the Tuarick,

In the total solitude which succeeded Bilma, a structure occurs similar to that of Balouchistan; loose hills of sand, perpendicular on one side, and which the camels glide down, being kept steady by the rider laying his whole weight on the tail. Among this ocean of sand, dark sand-stone ridges rear their heads, and afford landmarks by which the caravans guide their course. " 'Tremendously dreary are these marches: as far as

the eye can reach, billows of sand bound the prospect. On • seeing the solitary foot-passenger of the kafila, with his water

cask in his hand, and bag of zumeeta on his head, sink at a • distance beneath the slope of one of these, as he plods his way 6 alone, hoping to gain a few paces in his long day's work, by 'not following the track of the camels, one trembles for his

safety.' Major Denham suffered severely, though mounted on a fine Arabian horse, which, besides performing well its appropriate functions, served morcover the function of a parasol, standing fixed for hours in one position, while his master, stretched beneath him, was sheltered from the burning rays of the sun.

After a fortnight's travelling through this scene of utter. dreariness, the travellers were at length greeted by some symptoms of vegetable life. There appeared scattered clumps of herbage, and some stunted shrubs, on the leaves of which the camels feasted; herds of gazelles crossed their path, and the footsteps of the ostrich were traced. This tract is occupied by the Gunda Tibboo, who live entirely on camels' milk, with a very little millet. Even the horses are fed with milk only, upon which food they become fat and active. Boo-Khaloom waited on the Black Bird,' as the hereditary Sheikh of the Gundas chose to design himself, and presented him with some coarse scarlet cloth, and a tawdry silk robe. This apparel being the finest ever worn by the Black Bird,' threw him into an ecstacy of delight, which he testified by loud shouts, and high leaps into the air. The Tibboo were here on the

watch for whatever straggled from the caravan. Even a favourite dog was found eaten, and only the bones left; and a courier having been sent forward, rather handsomely equip. ped, to announce their approach to the Sultan of Bornou, they came upon him two days after, entirely stripped, and tied naked to a tree. Yet there appears little ground for Boo-Khaloom's rage on these occasions, when we find his own followers beginning the regular plunder of these poor wanderers of the desert, and even sending out scouts to bring tidings where any nest of them might lie concealed. As they approached any town or village, the inhabitants were seen on the plain beyond, driving before them in furious haste their cattle and all their effects. Boo-Khaloom appears to have been a good deal ashamed of these transactions, and, at the instigation of Major Denham, enforced restitution to a great extent; but it appears very doubtful if, without this stimulus, his conscience would have been so tender on a point which evidently entered into the regular system of caravan proceedings.

The country now rapidly improved, and was adorned with beautiful groves; and at length they reached Lari, a considerable town in the territory of Kanem. This formed an important era; for, from the rising ground on which Lari stood, they discovered the great lake Tchad, glowing with the golden rays of the sun in its strength.' Major Denham speedily hastened to view this greatest of the interior African waters.

. By sun-rise I was on the borders of the lake, armed for the destruction of the multitude of birds, who, all unconscious of my pur. pose, seemed as it were to welcome our arrival. Flocks of geese and wild ducks, of a most beautiful plumage, were quietly feeding at within half pistol shot of where I stood, and not being a very keen or inhuman sportsman, for the terms appear to me to be synonymous, my purpose of deadly warfare was almost shaken. As I moved towards them, they only changed their places a little to the right or left, and appeared to have no idea of the hostility of my intentions. All this was really so new, that I hesitated to abuse the confidence with which they regarded me, and very quietly sat down to contemplate the scene before me. Pelicans, cranes, four or five feet in height, grey, variegated, and white, were scarcely so many yards from my side, and a bird, between a snipe and a woodcock, resembling both and larger than either ; immense spoonbills of a snowy whiteness, wid. geon, teal, yellow-legged plover, and a hundred species of (to me at least) unknown water-fowl, were sporting before me; and it was long before I could disturb the tranquillity of the dwellers on these waters by firing a gun.

• The soil near the edges of the lake was a firm dark mud; and, in proof of the great overflowings and recedings of the waters, even in this advanced dry season, the stalks of the gussub, of the preceding year, were standing in the lake, more than forty yards from the shore. The water is sweet and pleasant, and abounds with fish. '

PP. 4 er eightne to anodowing!

considerand came days travel

After eight days travelling along the western shore of the lake, they came to another important feature-the Yeou, a very considerable stream, flowing from the west, and falling into the Tchad. It was about fifty yards broad, and two canoes lay on the bank, to ferry over goods and passengers. These vessels, though large, were very rudely constructed, of planks fastened together with cords. They received twenty or thirty persons, while the camels and horses swam with their heads made fast to the boats. Every one of the Arabs said this was the Nile.

Three days after, the caravan arrived at Kouka, the capital, or at least the residence of the acting sovereign of Bornou; and they were introduced at once into all the pomp of a Central African court.

"Our accounts had been so contradictory of the state of this country, that no opinion could be formed as to the real condition or the numbers of its inhabitants. We had been told that the sheikh's soldiers were a few ragged negroes armed with spears, who lived upon the plunder of the Black Kaffir countries, by which he was surrounded, and which he was enabled to subdue by the assistance of a few Arabs who were in his service; and again, we had been assured that his forces were not only numerous, but to a certain degree well trained. The degree of credit which might be attached to these reports was nearly balanced in the scales of probability; and we advanced towards the town of Kouka in a most interesting state of uncertainty, whether we should find its chief at the head of thousands, or be received by him under a tree, surrounded by a few naked slaves.

· These doubts, however, were quickly removed. I had ridden on a short distance in front of Boo-Khaloom, with his train of Arabs, all mounted, and dressed out in their best apparel ; and, from the thickness of the trees, soon lost sight of them, fancying that the road could not be mistaken. I rode still onwards, and on approaching a spot less thickly planted, was not a little surprised to see in front of me a body of several thousand cavalry drawn up in line, and extending right and left quite as far as I could see; and, checking my horse, I awaited the arrival of my party, under the shade of a widespreading acacia. The Bornou troops remained quite steady, without noise or confusion; and a few horsemen, who were moving about in front giving directions, were the only persons out of the ranks. On the Arabs appearing in sight, a shout, or yell, was given by the sheikh's people, which rent the air: a blast was blown from their rude instruments of music equally loud, and they moved on to meet Boo-Khaloom and his Arabs. There was an appearance of tact and management in their movements which astonished me; three

« AnteriorContinuar »